When Dying is a Part of Living

Feb 26, 2023

My mom is 88 and in her end-of-life stages. My dad is having a hard time accepting that reality. He refuses hospice even when it has been suggested several times by visiting home health care practitioners. However, I admire his tenacious commitment to his promise not to put her in a nursing home. He is doing the back-breaking labor to care for her at home.

My mother's sharp decline started in May of 2021. I travel back and forth to Florida from my hometown in Arkansas.  I have always imagined I would be with my parents at the end of their lives. But now I understand what an unrealistic hope that is while living 1,200 miles apart. Yet I am still trying to be there for them.

I am comfortable with death. It has been harder for me to grapple with the dying process and being so far away.  Not knowing when the inevitable will happen has challenged my nervous system. I am always ready for "the call."

One blessing of this phase of my mom's life is the closeness I was able to have with her during the times I have stayed overnight with her in the hospital or the rehab facility. In May, it was the first time she was in a hospital bed since she last gave birth, more than fifty years ago. The experience was a startling sensation for her, as she was used to being the nurse, not the patient. I was able to see her both as intensely vulnerable and childlike and then confident and playful as she bonded with the nursing staff. 

She was hallucinating those first few nights I was with her. With my healing skills, I was able to track with her the other domains she visited, keeping her company along the way. On the first night in rehab, she was so confused and scared she asked me to hold her. I climbed into bed with her and was able to experience the physical closeness that my inner child craved. My mom doesn't remember any of this. But I do. And so does my inner child. The warm sensation of closeness sated an unmet longing. 

The long-term care or death of loved ones can shift relationships for those left behind. My sisters and I grew closer after our oldest brother died, and even more so with our parents' decline and need for support.

I am heading back to Florida, with the inevitable getting closer and closer. All of we siblings will be there. Hopefully, that will help both my mom and dad accept this transition. My intention is to offer my mom full presence by meeting her in her world as she dances throughout her childhood, her childbearing years, and all the decades she has lived tending to others. I will bear witness to her dialogues with those that have already crossed over. I will tend to myself with self-love and self-care as I empathically feel the whirlwind of conscious and unconscious emotions of my family. There is no right or wrong way to embrace the death of a loved one. My intention is to do so consciously, with grace, and with care for my inner child.